Omar, moment, nation

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | Srinagar | Updated: Jan 6 2009, 04:49am hrs
For Omar Abdullah, the chief ministers chair has already brought its first challenge. The National Conference-Congress coalition government is being sworn in at Jammu, J&Ks winter capital, and that itself is a controversy. In a politically polarised state where the Kashmir valley and the Dogra heartland of Jammu do not see eye-to-eye politically, the place of the swearing-in ceremony has become an issue.

As the civil secretariat has already moved to Jammu, Omar had no choice. The issue was raised in a party meeting where leaders apprehended that the PDP would turn it into a appeasement of Jammu issue. For Omar, it was a Catch-22 situation. If he had decided to hold the ceremony in Srinagar, the BJP would have turned it into a discrimination against Jammu issue.

Omars swearing-in as chief minister today will inaugurate a treacherous journey. He faces two major challenges: good governance and good politics on the larger Kashmir issue. Both are essential to his success. Then there are other situations where his acumen and maturity will be tested. The PDP has already walked out of the UPA and is readying to corner him inside as well as outside the House.

A day ahead of the formation of new government, the rumour in Srinagar is that the Centre will speed up the Afzal Guru case and take it to its resolution before the national elections to bolster its chances in the polls. If that happens, Omar may find himself in the middle of another crisis in Kashmir. In all events, his response to situations that are not directly in his control will shape perceptions about him. The alliance with the Congress means that the UPAs decisions outside J&K will also impact the image of his government.

But Omar seems to have a plan for everything. He has already started to position himself as a leader with an inclusive agenda. He has said he will try to play a positive role to help Indo-Pak relations, persuade the Centre to initiate a political dialogue with separatists and order review of the cases of prisoners, especially those arrested under the Public Safety Act.

In an exclusive interview, Omar laid out his programme of action. On the resolution of the Kashmir problem: The issue of Kashmir has not gone away because of the high voter turnout during these elections. The problem is still there, he said. I will tell New Delhi that the channels of communication that were open during the NDA regime and later under UPA must be restored. During our previous government, we prepared the ground for a dialogue with the Hizbul Mujahideen, he said. I think this mandate in terms of peoples participation in the elections is in favour of such initiatives.

On the Mumbai terror attack: It is unfortunate that we will take over the government at a time when the graph of Indo-Pak relations is going downwards. That slide needs to be arrested immediately. He said Pakistan needs to take New Delhis concerns seriously. If the evidence provided by New Delhi is taken as credible by everybody else, why not by Pakistan

He recalled President Zardaris words earlier this year. He said there is a little bit of the Indian in every Pakistani and there is a little bit of the Pakistani in every Indian. I hope it is time that they (Pakistan) recognise that little bit of Indian in them.

Initially, he wants to try and help improve the situation between the two countries at an informal level. Over the years, I have visited Pakistan on three occasions. I have developed contacts with people there and many of them called me to congratulate me, he said. I dont want to extend my brief but I certainly will do everything possible so that the freeze in the Indo-Pak relations does not impact our situation.

Abdullah said that his first aim will be to bring governance back on track in the state immediately. He had a plan and agenda for the first 100 days, he said, and would start implementing it the day he gets his team. There will be a plan that will be communicated to the people. And after our first three months, we will come forward to show our progress. That alone will show our seriousness.

To begin with, he will open all of Indias cities, its industry and businesses to Kashmiri youth. I will knock on every door. I will go to every chief minister so that our youth can get jobs there, he said. Our problem is not just the unemployment of our youth. Our problem is that we have a large number of youth who are unemployable. I will try every avenue available to me to get them trained and employable.